A Tribute to James Kirk VC 1897 – 1918. James Kirk died tragically young and is the only one of the Tameside VC’s to have been awarded the medal posthumously. His death came 7 days before the end of the First World War.
Kirk was born in “Willow Bank”, on Ladybridge Road in Cheadle Hulme and he worshipped at Cheadle Hulme United Reformed Church, where the wooden plaque in their foyer shows his name.
He was educated in Cheadle Hulme and later in Stockport. On moving to Edge Lane, Droylsden he continued his education at the North Road United Methodist School at Clayton. He is remembered as being a keen and successful sportsman.
His first employment was as a clerk for Ogden and Madeley’s Warehouse in Manchester but following the onset of war he enlisted in the 2/6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and joined the 1/6th Battalion in the Dardanelles in 1915.
At Gallipoli he suffered severe frostbite resulting in hospitalisation in Cairo throughout November and December 1915. Whilst there he joined the newly formed Camel Transport Corp as an acting Quartermaster-Sergeant and served with them for a year until rejoining the 1/6th Battalion on their move to France in January 1917.
In June 1918 he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and returned to France on 8th October to join 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment. For his bravery four weeks later he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The citation reads:
‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty North of Ors, France, on 4 November 1918, whilst attempting to bridge the Oise Canal with wooden floats linked together. To cover the bridging of the canal Lieutenant Kirk took a Lewis Gun, and under intense machine-gun fire, paddled across the canal on a raft, and at a range of ten yards expended all his ammunition. Further ammunition was paddled across to him and he continuously maintained covering fire for the bridging party from a most exposed position until he was instantaneously wounded in the face and arm, then killed at his gun by a machine-gun bullet to the head.
The supreme contempt of danger and magnificent self-sacrifice displayed by this gallant officer prevented many casualties and enabled two platoons to cross the bridge before it was destroyed.’
The war poet Wilfred Owen – whose work features in the Museum of the Manchester, in Ashton – died alongside Kirk. They were both buried at the English Communal Cemetery at Ors.
Just seven days after Kirk’s death came Armistice Day – the end of the war. It should have been a day of rejoicing in Droylsden but people were saddened as news of the death of their local soldier reached them. A letter from Kirk’s Commanding Officer to James Kirk Senior sent consolation and a tribute:
‘His action was that of a true British soldier and will remain long in the memory of all who saw it.’
James Kirk’s commemorative service was held on Sunday 4 November 2018 at the Cheadle Hulme War Memorial, where wreaths and a memorial stone were laid. The Deputy Mayor of Stockport was joined by the family of James Kirk, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and The Royal British Legion.
Join the Cheadle Hulme United Reformed Church on Sunday 11 November 10.30am for a Remembrance Service with recorded last post and reveille, followed by Remembrance exhibition by the ‘old soldiers’ of the church until 3pm. Light refreshments available, everyone welcome – especially children.